Thursday, January 17, 2013

Meet The New Boss: Power And Burden Fall on Shoulders Of New Speaker Martinez; Neutering Of Senate Dems Could Make Him Party's Last Line Of Defense, Plus: Bregman Resurfaces To Take On Susana; Seeks Dem Party Chair 

Speakers Walter & Ken Martinez (Bralley photo)
The neutering of the mainline Democrats in the state Senate has the party focus shifting to new House Speaker Ken Martinez.

Many see him as the last line of defense in the wake of the successful conservative Senate power play.

For you history buffs, call it the Dems Maginot Line.

The Dem Party base is still reeling from the defeat it suffered at the opening day of the legislative session Tuesday when conservative Dona Ana County Dem Senator Mary Kay Papen befriended Senate Republicans and a handful of Blue Dog Dems and forced Sen. Pete Campos to withdraw from the Senate President pro tem battle.

The victory was so pronounced--Papen by acclamation after the Senate leadership caved--that there are fears that the votes could be there to pass Governor-friendly legislation that was previously bottled up.

The saving grace for the Dems is that they picked up two seats in the House in November. With a 38 to 32 majority Martinez appears to have firm control. But how firm?

If Martinez loses command for only a moment and something big slides past him, the Senate conservatives will pounce on it like a cat on a can of tuna.

We asked a number of veteran politicos to size up the new play book in Santa Fe, including ABQ's Mike Santullo, a former Dem who is now independent:

Senate Democrats have been neutered because they did not have the huevos to do what needed to do  up there...The Governor has put her thumb print on that Senate and has more control with Papen as pro tem. 

Despite her denials, Papen is going to be like a rubber stamp for Susana. They are old friends from Las Cruces. That's just the way it is. But Kenny Martinez is not a rubber stamp. He now has to be the foil to the Governor and has the opportunity to be the majordomo in this new order in Santa Fe. The Senate Dems have pretty much capitulated so this could make Martinez the rising star.

The responsibility of the Democratic agenda of this state is now on the shoulders of Speaker Martinez. Yes, he needs to practice the art of compromise, but he can't be ashamed of partisanship. If he doesn't do it for the Dems, who will?

Thanks for that, Mike.

Santullo has been in the game since the 70's and recalls when Martinez's father--Walter Martinez of Grants--served as House Speaker. Like his son, Walter faced a feisty conservative opposition. He became a ringleader of the "Mama Lucy Gang," a group of ABQ liberals and Northern Hispanics. They held sway over the House for most of the 70's.


Speaker Ken Martinez has been friendly with the Republicans during his House career. In his maiden speech as Speaker he talked of working together and compromise. But in the wake of the Senate cave-in, he is walking a much finer line. He can't assume there is wiggle room in the Senate.

Already the Roundhouse is swept with rumors of 2014 and how the R's are already lining up candidates for a second consecutive try at taking control of the chamber that for decades has been held by the Dems. A pipe dream? Maybe.

But 2014 is a low turnout election with the Governor on the ballot. A discouraged and unenthusiastic Democratic base that stays home could bump the Republican numbers. Then the Dems could face what they confront in the Senate--R's forming alliances with conservative Dems who do not fear the leadership.

Martinez is said not to be a "big picture"guy, but if he and the Dems  simply tinker with the Guv's agenda and not challenge her or present an agenda of their own, it could leave House Dems vulnerable.

Speaker Martinez served under the iron hand of the late Speaker Ben Lujan. With the new political calculus in Santa Fe, he will need both an iron hand and a steel spine.


Sam Bregman
It didn't seem coincidental at all that outspoken ABQ attorney Sam Bregman announced his candidacy for chairman of the state Democratic Party on Wednesday, the day after the Democratic pro tem debacle.

The boisterous Bregman sometimes seems out of step in laid-back New Mexico, but with the Democratic base pounding the table for firmer leadership, his time may have come. He narrowly lost the chairmanship to Javier Gonzales two years ago.

Bregman likes to throw red meat even when he is lunching with vegetarians. Now that the crowd is downright carnivorous, they may be more in tune with him. From his announcement:

Two years ago I ran for State Party Chair to stand up and fight for our Democratic values against a new Republican Governor and the privileged, big moneyed interests that supported her and her divisive agenda. Nothing has changed, except she has had two years to reverse and ignore policies that Democrats had put in place to help lower and middle class families.  She has gone unchallenged since taking office; I pledge to you that those days are over.

Bregman toyed with running for Governor against Susana, but that match-up never did look like it would light up the night.

Besides throwing red meat, Bregman says he can collect green cash. He promises to be a prodigious fund-raiser as well as a verbal gladiator.

Carlsbad attorney and former Eddy County Commissioner Roxanne Lara has also said she is running for party chair. Insiders think that as a Hispanic woman she would match up well against Martinez. Another candidate is Cornelia Lange.

But politics is all about timing and the lack of aggressive leadership in the party and its failure to lay a glove on Susana, may make the ground under this race more fertile for the pugnacious Bregman.

We'll see. The Dem central committee members will meet in the spring to make the decision.


Supporters of outgoing Dem Chairman Javier Gonzales say it is unfair to blame him for the situation in the state Senate where the Dems have 25 of the 42 seats, but not the power that those numbers represent. They say that it is not the role of a party chair to get involved in Senate organization matters. But not all agree, including this reader who requested and was granted "Alligator status":

Joe, you had a solid piece Wednesday with what I thought was a warranted critique of Senator Sanchez and Senator Campos. But while you're at it, how about taking Javier Gonzales to task for his lackluster and rudderless role as chair of the State Democratic Party?  It seems to me that he deserves a healthy dose of criticism equal to or greater than Sen. Sanchez and Sen. Campos for allowing Governor Martinez and her political aide Jay McCleskey to walk all over the Ds and straight into what appears to be a second term.

Yep, The Alligators are snapping this week.

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